WASHINGTON -- The first automatic pay raise in more than three years for federal employees kicked in Wednesday, with the rates increasing by 1 percent for the next applicable pay period.
President Barack Obama issued an executive order two days before Christmas to implement the change at the start of the new year, following up on a plan he laid out in his 2014 budget proposal and in an August letter to lawmakers.
By law, Congress can block or alter the annual cost-of-living increases for federal employees, but lawmakers passed on their last opportunity to do so with the $85 billion budget deal they approved earlier this month. That measure did not include language affecting federal worker pay, meaning the president's plan takes effect by default.
The federal government has not given its civilian workers a cost-of-living raise since 2010. Obama halted the increases for two years starting in 2011, and Congress continued the pay freeze for 2013. Federal workers have still received performance awards and higher compensation through promotions during that time.
Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., whose state hosts the headquarters of 20 federal agencies and is home to about 120,000 federal employees, praised Obama's executive order last week.
"This long-overdue modest pay raise for federal-government employees is a good step in recognizing the value of federal workers," Mikulski said in a statement. "They have been the targets of unending attacks. They've been furloughed, laid off and locked out through no fault of their own. I believe federal employees should never be scapegoats in fights over deficit reduction."
Federal employee unions also applauded the president's order but said pay rates are still not where they should be after cost-of-living adjustments stopped for three years.
National Treasury Employees Union president Colleen Kelley argued in a statement last week that federal workers are paid less than their private-sector counterparts. "It is time to get the federal pay process working as it should," she said, adding that agencies need fair compensation to recruit and retain talented employees.